Fires hit closer to home
Sawtooth Valley could be in danger from Trail Creek fire
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Nearby wildfires near Atlanta and in the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River
drainage are reminders that the Wood River and Sawtooth valleys are not immune to
wildfires this summer, despite their clean record thus far.
from the Trail Creek Fire near Atlanta has hovered over the Wood River Valley for the past
week. Should wind and weather take a turn for the worst, the fire could spread into the
Sawtooth Wilderness or even into the Sawtooth Valley. Express photo by Willy Cook
Ashes cast off from the roaring fire, which burned four Atlanta-area homes
over the weekend, have been falling on Alturas Lake and Smiley Creek at the southern end
of the Sawtooth Valley for the past week, and smoke has inundated the Wood River Valley on
The ashes falling in the southern Sawtooth Valley could be the first
indication of one of the directions the fire may go if wind and weather refuse to
cooperate with over 600 firefighters, eight helicopters and 10 fire engines working to
tame the 22,900-acre blaze. The fire is primarily moving to the southwest, however.
The blaze, called the Trail Creek Fire, has charred over 30 square miles
According to Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) deputy area ranger
Becky Nourse, the Sawtooth Valley has been inundated with smoke from the Trail Creek Fire,
which is about 15 miles as the crow flies from Smiley Creek.
"Right now we cant even see the mountains," Nourse said
via telephone Monday as she peered from her Stanley Ranger Station office. "Its
definitely a concern."
Nourse said there is a mountain pass between Atlanta and Alturas Lake
Creek, which funnels into the Sawtooth Valley.
"If it starts making it to that part, well get a lot more
concerned," she said.
Yesterday the fire was most active on its western front, in the Yuba River
and James Creek drainages, but winds had blown embers across the southern border of the
Sawtooth Wilderness Area, and spot fires resulted.
The fire has been creeping very slowly to the northeast and southeast.
To the southeast, the fire had about one mile to travel in order to clear
a high ridgeline and then enter the Willow Creek drainage, which would be a step closer to
Dollarhide Summit and a Big Wood River tributary, Warm Springs Creek.
To the northeast, the fire was stalled on some rocky terrain yesterday,
but if it started to move, the Sawtooth Wilderness Area and, ultimately, Alturas Lake and
Smiley Creek could be in jeopardy, Nourse said.
Since it ignited last Wednesday morning, most likely from a lightning
strike that smoldered for a day or two, the fire has burned on the border between the
Sawtooth and Boise national forests.
Boise National Forest fire information officer Venetia Gempler said in an
interview that the fire is expected to remain most active along the west and southwest
"But its creeping northwest, too," she said.
"Its real rocky to the northwest, so theyre not as concerned about that
The fire is still 40 air miles from Ketchum, and the likelihood of it
advancing over several rivers and high mountain ridges into the Warm Springs Creek
drainage is unlikely, Gempler said.
The Rankin Creek Fire, burning along the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River
drainage about 10 miles east of Stanley has now consumed 6,500 acres of forest.
According to a National Forest fire report, firefighters made good
progress trying to contain the fire over the weekend.
Nearly 600 firefighters, 22 fire engines and three helicopters worked to
douse the flames there and were aided by cooler temperatures and higher humidity Sunday.
"Fire behavior was moderate [yesterday]," according to the
The most active part of the blaze was on the northeast end, where the fire
backed down Bonanza Peak into Adair Creek.
Crews set up and maintained sprinkler systems in the ghost town of Custer
and provided structure protection for the nearby Grouse Creek Minea now-closed gold
According to Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere, the
forests firefighters are all over the western United States fighting blazes.
However, he said, several engines and firefighters are on reserve to fight
"The priority is on initial attack," he said. "We always
keep some forces handy to fight any new starts of fire. The easiest to put out, of course,
is when they just start."
Early this week, 28 fires burned across Idaho, covering over 600,000
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there have been 69,558
wildfires this year burning over five million acres.